Report: Legal guardian system fails many Ohioans

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The court-appointed guardian system
created to help Ohio’s elderly and mentally disabled residents and
children has failed many it serves and allows unscrupulous guardians to
rob their wards of freedom, dignity and money, a newspaper reported
Sunday.
The newspaper’s investigation of the system that controls
the lives of about 65,000 Ohioans found that even judges overseeing the
system say it is broken, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1o40nos ) reported.
Ohio’s
system has ripped apart families, rendered the mentally ill voiceless,
and left some elderly Ohioans dying penniless in nursing homes,
according to the newspaper.
Probate judges in Ohio’s 88 counties
direct the system without detailed state guidelines and often amid
overloaded court dockets. The Dispatch’s yearlong investigation showed
some lawyers appointed as guardians have been allowed to ignore elderly
and mentally ill people while placing them in the lowest-rated nursing
home and some lawyers have billed wards for thousands of dollars in
questionable legal fees for routine tasks such as paying utility bills.
Other
failings found included a severely autistic man whose weight rose to
513 pounds because his guardian — his mother— allowed him to gorge on
junk food and microwave dinners despite caseworkers’ warnings. One
guardian’s failures also separated an elderly couple married for 45
years in their final year, and an eccentric woman forced into
guardianship against her will was left broke and homeless.
The
newspaper’s survey of Ohio’s probate courts found that nearly 90 percent
do not require credit checks for prospective guardians, and as many as
61 percent don’t require criminal-background checks of guardians
entrusted with the assets and care of vulnerable people.
Guardians
are required in most counties to submit paper status reports about
their wards only every two years and probate courts are not required to
independently verify reports. A few counties require monthly visits, but
more than three-quarters of the state’s probate courts don’t require
guardians to ever meet with their wards.
More than 80 percent of
Ohio probate courts do not conduct financial audits or random in-home
inspections, according to 72 of 88 counties responding to the survey.
Also, more than two-thirds of Ohio’s counties don’t track cases that had
been investigated for possible wrongdoing or that had been forwarded to
local law-enforcement agencies.
Attorney General Mike DeWine said he was disgusted by revealed abuses and lack of court oversight.
"I
think it’s certainly crying out for reform," he said of the system.
"And some sort of standards are certainly very, very much needed."
Demand
for guardianships will grow as the number of people 65 or older in the
United States doubles by 2050, and Ohioans caught in the system are
expected to see more neglect and abuse unless there are significant
changes, the Dispatch reported.
A committee designated by the Ohio
Supreme Court nearly eight years ago to devise new rules has proposed
changes, which the court is scheduled to decide on after a public
comment period ends June 25.
But Julia R. Nack, one of two
nationally certified master guardians in Ohio and a former probate court
investigator, said that while the committee’s proposals are better than
nothing, they don’t go far enough.
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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com
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